In The Know: Oklahoma again No. 1 in the nation for funding cuts to common education

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Oklahoma again No. 1 in the nation for funding cuts to common education: Oklahoma’s state funding cuts to common education once again lead the nation, as has been the case for the good part of the past decade. The state leads in inflation-adjusted cuts to state common education funding per student since 2008 for the fourth straight year, according to a comparison from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities works at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income individuals and families [Tulsa World]. Read the full report [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].

James Lankford is on board with the Republican tax cut bill despite debt concerns: U.S. Sen. James Lankford said Wednesday he will support a Republican tax cut plan despite prior misgivings about its effect on the national debt. Lankford’s office said he was persuaded to back the bill after receiving assurances that a backstop provision will be put in place to lessen or prevent increases to the debt [NewsOK]. How Oklahomans would fare under the Congressional GOP tax plan [OK Policy].

Oklahoma health insurance sign-ups increase, but why? Oklahomans are signing up for health insurance through the exchange faster than they did last year, though it remains to be seen if more people are seeking coverage overall. As of Nov. 25, Oklahomans had signed up for 43,253 plans through the exchange, according to a weekly enrollment snapshot from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Last year, Oklahoma recorded 31,803 plans selected by the Nov. 26, 2016, enrollment snapshot [NewsOK].

Senator Lankford ignores the example of his own state if he thinks tax triggers are responsible: The United States Senate is poised to vote as early as this week on a major tax overhaul bill. Although tax reform is the highest priority of Congressional Republicans and the White House, crafting legislation capable of securing a 51-vote majority in the narrowly-divided Senate has been a huge challenge for Republican leaders. For several Republican Senators, including Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, the main concern with the tax bill is the huge amount it would add to the federal deficit [OK Policy].

Tax overhaul looks like a roll of the dice for most Oklahomans: To get Lankford’s vote, Republican leadership agreed to “backstop” provisions that work a lot like Oklahoma’s income tax triggers, except in reverse. If the tax cuts don’t produce the predicted growth, taxes increase. But not in a recession and, as Lankford himself said, not by very much. Just about all analysts seem to see the Republican proposal as a big win for big business and high-income Americans and a big risk for just about everyone else, especially when coupled with the GOP budget resolution the tax cuts are part of [Randy Krehbiel / Tulsa World]. 

Prosperity Policy: We’ve come a long way: Five years ago, in her second year as governor, Mary Fallin introduced a plan to eliminate the state income tax as her highest priority. Two weeks ago, Gov. Fallin vetoed a state budget because it failed to include any permanent tax increases. Three years ago, a majority of Oklahoma lawmakers, including almost all Republicans, voted to cut the state income tax by nearly half a percent and then allowed the tax cut to take effect even as the state faced crushing budget shortfalls [David Blatt / Journal Record].

DHS programs now funded for about 3 months: Though the Oklahoma Legislature soon must return to the capitol building to clear the budgetary rubble left by Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto, a cohort of state residents is breathing easier – for now. The veto, which crossed out 165 of 170 sections passed in special session by lawmakers, did not touch $26.9 million in emergency funding for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Urgent funding for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services also emerged intact [Tahlequah Daily Press].

Commissioners quiz officials about road and bridge funds: County commissioners from across the state gathered Wednesday in Oklahoma City seeking answers from the executive branch about the raid on county roads and bridges fund to prop up state agencies. Gene Wallace, executive director for the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, said Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a budget bill passed by lawmakers during a special session “had the effect of taking a cumulative total of $130 million from the fund.” The County Improvements to Roads and Bridges fund, he said, receives annual appropriations totaling $120 million [Muskogee Phoenix].

OK sheriffs’ arrangement worthy of second look: As lawmakers who favor criminal justice reform look for ways to improve Oklahoma’s system, they should review a program that’s enriching one group while further burdening those trying to get back on their feet after serving time. The Oklahoman’s Nolan Clay reported Sunday on how the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association has made more than $4 million for its part in collecting overdue fines, court costs and fees in criminal cases. It might be difficult to find a sweeter deal [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman].

State Health official latest to leave: The chief operating officer at the Oklahoma State Department of Health has resigned, the latest in a string of departures at the embattled agency. A spokesman confirmed that Deborah Nichols resigned Tuesday. The move adds another vacancy to be filled at the state Health Department. Along with Commissioner Terry Cline and Senior Deputy Commissioner Julie Cox-Kain who resigned less than a month ago, the agency has also lost another top aide and both senior lawyers [NewsOK].

DOC wants more privacy for the agency, private contractors: Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials started drafts on legislation they plan to request during the 2018 session, some of which would grant more privacy to agency officials as well as companies that build and administer private prisons. One bill would create some leeway for the agency within the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act, and the other within Oklahoma Open Records Act. The new exemptions would allow the agency’s governing board to privately discuss security policies and contract negotiations in closed-door meetings known as executive sessions [Journal Record].

Raising expectations, lifting student outcomes: From an increasingly diverse student population to an unprecedented teacher shortage, Oklahoma’s public education system has weathered many challenges, but its chief aim has not changed: the need to prepare young people for college or the workforce after high school graduation. Accomplishing that mission has been problematic, however, with our teachers saddled by inadequate academic standards and assessments that fell short of national comparability [State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister / Tulsa World].

Energy consultant sues dozens of state agencies in contract dispute: Three years ago, the Oklahoma government hired a consultant to help reduce energy usage across the board. Last week, that consultant filed a lawsuit against dozens of agencies, alleging that officials’ failure to report data and pay for services breached a contract and cost the firm money. The lawsuit involves state contracts for an energy-use reduction program the Legislature approved in 2012, in which a third party would work with agencies to adapt employees’ behavior and other practices [Journal Record].

Lawsuit Takes Aim At Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter, Former AG Scott Pruitt: A new lawsuit from a government watchdog group is taking aim at Attorney General Mike Hunter and Former Attorney General Scott Pruitt. The lawsuit was filed by the Washington DC based group Campaign for Accountability and it’s asking a state audit from 2011 be released. The audit was requested by Pruitt, after he was alerted by former Senator Tom Coburn about possible foul play in Tar Creek Reclamation site [News On 6].

Quote of the Day

“There is simply no way for Congress in 2017 to anticipate what the fiscal and economic circumstances will be over the next decade and to design a trigger that will work as intended at some point off in the future. Senator Lankford should hold firm to his insistence that the tax bill not increase the deficit and not settle for a defective substitute.”

– OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt, urging Senator James Lankford to oppose the GOP’s federal tax cut proposal. Lankford indicated he would support the bill if it included a trigger to raise taxes if revenue falls sharply (Source)

Number of the Day


Change in Oklahoma’s state tax collections from their highest point to the first quarter of 2017, the third largest decline among the states

Source: Pew Trusts

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Young people with disabilities more likely to be arrested: More than half of blacks in the U.S. with disabilities will be arrested by the time they reach their late 20s, a new study finds. In general, people with mental or physical disabilities were 13 percent more likely to be arrested as juveniles or young adults than people free of disability, according to the report in the American Journal of Public Health. For blacks, disability widened the chances of arrest by 17 percent, and more than 55 percent of blacks with disabilities were arrested by age 28 [Reuters].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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